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And the winner of the BoJo Inverted Pyramid of Piffle award is . . .


Having sifted through more than a week of confected outrage, the panel judging the Boris Johnson-sponsored Inverted Pyramid of Piffle contest has finally decided upon the most asinine response to BoJo’s musings on the niqab and burka containing two jocular references to Islamic dress, which Andrew Cooper, former adviser to David Cameron, deemed to be ‘courting of fascism’.

Baron Cooper of Windrush evidently is in need of a dictionary. But if the concern is creeping authoritarianism, his Lordship might instead ponder the solemn declaration by the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police: ‘My preliminary view . . . is that what Mr Johnson said would not reach the bar for a criminal offence.’ One would jolly well hope not; however, the height of the bar is now anyone’s guess, and the very fact that Cressida Dick thought it worthwhile even to consult ‘my very experienced officers who deal with hate crime’ is more chilling than risible.

In the competition to overreact, failing to trouble the scorers were some prominent names, among them Theresa May, she having unsuccessfully tried to get Boris to recant for having ‘caused offence’. No, Theresa: what happened is some people chose to take offence, either for themselves or on behalf of others, and your response to it was characteristically craven. Missing the cut as well was Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis who, after also failing to elicit an apology from Boris, has now instigated a formal investigation; already standing in a deep hole, Brandon has put down his shovel and ordered an excavator.

It remains unclear what there is to investigate that The Telegraph has not already published; nevertheless, the process which Jacob Rees-Mogg calls a ‘show trial’ is now under way, accompanied by some of the party’s more sensitive Muslims demanding punishment. Baron Sheikh of Cornhill, founder and now president of the Conservative Muslim Forum (me neither) urged the prime minister to ‘take the whip away . . . that’s what I’d like to see’. And when asked to explain why: ‘Why not? He’s not a super human being’. Er, thanks for that penetrating exposition, your Lordship.

Mohammed Amin, chairman of the same Conservative Muslim Forum, was slightly more coherent but cried sacrilege: ‘[Johnson’s] remarks were simply improper for a senior British politician . . . he should repent.’ Repent? This is the language of an Inquisition.

For which the Grand Inquisitor is Lady Warsi. The Baroness has for some time been on a mission to expose Islamophobia (however that is defined) within the Conservative party – a campaign which, by coincidence, gathered momentum after Sayeeda discovered that successive leaders no longer shared the Baroness’s high opinion of herself.

Warsi wrote of Boris: ‘He said – not only to women who veil, but to many more who associate with a faith in which some women do – that you don’t belong here.’ Which led her to the conclusion: ‘This is surely time for the promised diversity training scheme to kick in. I’m more than happy to educate the man myself.’

How very generous of the Baroness to make herself available. Warsi’s wish to send BoJo for re-education presumably is to ensure that in future he desists from further insulting statements, an example being this disparagement of the niqab: ‘I just don’t know what its purpose is in terms of British Islam . . . is this a garment which in 10 or 20 years’ time is going to be part of the landscape? I sincerely hope we’re heading in that direction where it won’t be.’ Except this egregious example of ‘dog-whistling’ was in fact uttered not by Boris Johnson in 2018, but last year by Sayeeda Warsi.

Although vituperative, the aforementioned criticisms were all predictable; to gain the judges’ attention, serious contenders had to be much more imaginative. An early front runner was leader of the Scottish Conservatives and experienced Boris-basher Ruth Davidson, who seemingly believes that a Muslim woman hidden beneath a burka is no different from a Christian sporting a crucifix pendant: ‘Why are the parameters different for one faith and not the other?’

Davidson continues to be touted as a future Tory leader, mainly by those for whom the distance between London and Edinburgh has so far lent enchantment. With luck, her erstwhile admirers might now cease to take seriously someone who bewilderingly conflates an inconspicuous necklace with a concealing garment which, whether worn because of coercion or through choice, is a visual statement of religious, cultural and social segregation.

In fact, the face-covering that Ruth Davidson casually equates to a discreet crucifix is, for Qanta Ahmed writing in The Spectator,both a symbol of cultural misogyny and a political marker for Islamist sympathies’; and for Maajid Nawaz, the broadcaster and founder of Quilliam, ‘the uniform of medieval patriarchal tyranny’.

Compared with these critics of the niqab and the burka, Boris Johnson is a mealy-mouthed hedger.

With the story continuing to run, last weekend produced a few further corkers. Iman Atta, director of Tell MAMA – an acronym for Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks, a self-fulfilling title if ever there was one – predictably asserted that Boris was responsible for a spike in anti-Muslim abuse. Johnson is, of course, a ‘privileged white male’ whereas ‘Muslim women who wear the burka . . . are some of the most marginalised women, who cannot find employment and, in some instances, have few choices’.

Yes, and why might that be? Unfortunately, Atta and his grievance-mongering organisation appear unable to comprehend that such women would be less marginalised, better able to find employment and enjoy more life choices were their identities not entombed in a burka or hidden behind a niqab.

Despite all this stiff competition, only some of which there has been space to record, the judges unanimously awarded the coveted Inverted Pyramid of Piffle trophy to Matthew d’Ancona, the former Spectator editor turned Guardian columnist, who coincidentally had a verbal joust on radio with our own Laura Perrins this week.

Last weekend Matthew’s phizog appeared beside a headline that one initially presumed to be a sensationalist paraphrasing of his article. But no: having taken all week to reflect upon Johnson’s piece, d’Ancona’s considered opinion, upon no evidence whatsoever, is that Boris’s ‘demeaning, dehumanising language about Muslim women in religious clothing . . . poses greater long-term dangers than Powell’s speech in 1968’.

What glorious tripe. Unlike Enoch’s ‘I seem to see the River Tiber foaming with much blood’, it seems highly improbable that scholars and historians will, 50 years hence, similarly analyse and debate the political and cultural impact of a Telegraph column containing the incontestable opinion and mildly amusing visual gag: ‘It is absolutely ridiculous that people should go around looking like letter boxes.’

Not that BoJo expects the simile to be still valid half a century from now. ‘One day, I am sure, they will go,’ wrote Boris, whose insouciance regarding Islamic face-coverings Laura Perrins recently derided thus: ‘The truth is the arc of history does not always stretch ever forward to the hinterland of liberty and democracy . . . the next generation are far more eager to adopt [the burka].’

Quite so: if current demographic and cultural trends continue for the next half-century, it is much more likely to be Boris’s postbox which by 2068 will have become the historical artefact, not the niqab or the burka.

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Gary Oliver
Gary Oliver
Gary Oliver is an accountant who lives in East Lothian.

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